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Upwell Diaries, Chapter 1: Social Media Lessons for the Marine Community

Posted: October 31st, 2012 | Filed under: oceans, social media | No Comments »

I’m experimenting daily with crazy campaign ideas at Upwell, and with all that I’m learning, wanted to share some of it with you here. In this first installment, some tips on using social media to promote marine/ocean issues. The basic social media lessons go without saying. I am a fan of transparency, immediacy, reciprocity. But there are unique challenges in this field – advocating for something that is hard for most of us to see, feel and touch. Explaining the myriad complicated issues that are bound to exist in such a diverse ecosystem. And moving beyond our fascination with charismatic megafauna to inspire action around the less cute or sexy issues, like ocean acidification, marine protected areas, and forage fish.

This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things that have been… swimming in my head recently.

1. Communicate based on shared values, not shared knowledge.

The ocean is so big, so vast, there are so many things that you can know about, and after years of campaigning in this space I still learn stuff everyday, so how can I expect to get massive amounts of social media traction on something that requires baseline knowledge about an ocean conservation issue?

Tap into an emotion we all share, as opposed to tapping into a specific set of knowledge that only a portion of people have. When thinking about how to campaign with social media around ocean issues, you have to understand that there is a lack of knowledge. When you’re campaigning on women’s issues, you’re not fighting that same information deficit. There is a base of knowledge, even if there isn’t a base of activism. When it comes to ocean issues, the knowledge and activism circles are pretty much one and the same.

One of the most creative ways to get people to share, to get a message to spread farther is how can we compare the ocean to things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Tap into our basic human nature, and the things that drive our daily decisions as opposed to into some pre-existing ocean ethic, which is not as widespread.

Seafood Fraud image macro

What else gets mislabeled in the world that people do know about?

2. Use people’s love of the ocean to inspire them to act.

Everybody loves the ocean. Even if we’re not all ocean conservationists, people  innately love the ocean, even it they’re scared of it. Even if they won’t swim in it, they love it. People love putting whales on T-shirts and shells in bathrooms. The ocean is part of our everyday existence. It has a good aesthetic. It’s beautiful.

The idea of abundance is deeply set in our culture. People believe that the ocean is abundant, that coral reefs are lively and colorful all over the world, and that our oceans are full of fish. There is a doom and gloom aspect in working in this field which makes you want to say, ‘Actually, we’re killing all the fish and all the coral reefs are dying,’ but like we did with Shark Week, it’s really important to meet people where they are. If they’re already thinking from a frame of abundance, hammering them with a message that things are dying is not something they’re going to want to share.

As much as we can use enthusiasm and love for ocean life to activate people, rather than a message of death and gloom, I think that that is much more powerful. We saw it happen during Shark Week. There were so many people who were excited about sharks. Sharks are awe-inspiring, and if you can acknowledge that, while also taking an opportunity to talk about the threats that face sharks, and use messages of awesomeness and abundance, you’re creating community with people who feel that way. If they see you as part of their community, and as sharing some kind of aesthetic, or personal, or moral value, then they’re that much more likely to listen to what you have to say. You have to establish a lot of common ground with people.

If you’ve got a Facebook Page and all you’re posting are negative things, you’re not going to get a lot of likes. You’ve got to celebrate what’s wonderful about the ocean in order to get people to understand that there’s something worth saving.

3. Embrace the meme. Combine images and text.

Memes are driving the discussion. People are engaging intellectually via memes. It’s not a vapid thing.

4. Look to other causes for inspiration

Just because we believe our issue is special, and especially important, doesn’t mean we are interacting with a different Internet than the rest of the nonprofit world. Look at what the Humane Society is doing. Look at what Human Rights Watch is doing. Some of the cutting edge nonprofits are doing social media work. You can just copy what they’re doing for ocean issues.

Don’t be afraid to copy what works.

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